(Darren Abate/AHL Photo)
Training camp opened on September 23 in San Antonio. The departure of veteran defenseman, Chris Butler leaves the captaincy open. So we’ll take a look at the options facing the Rampage as they prepare for their first preseason action this weekend.
The Young Guns
Austin Poganski and Klim Kostin are both pushing hard to make their NHL debut on Opening Night this season. Both Poganski and Kostin had played in all of the Blues’ preseason games prior to the Sept 24th game against Dallas. While each has made a serious case for a spot, only one real hole in the roster and a lot of depth at forward means it is likely one, or both of these guys will be playing in San Antonio to start the season.
Austin Poganski is coming off his first year of professional hockey, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him play. Strong on the puck and working hard down low are key characteristics to his game; almost reminiscent of a former Blues captain, turned rival last season. Poganski could make a serious case for call-ups throughout the season which might keep him from being an ideal candidate for the captaincy. Even still, he does have a solid pedigree of leadership. Going back to his days at UND, Poganski was a Junior and an assistant captain, when the Fighting Hawks went to the NCAA Championship finals. He was then named a captain for his senior year, in which, he lead the Hawks to a 3rd place finish; losing to Duluth in the Semi-finals.
Kostin probably has the strongest leadership resume of all the candidates we’ll be looking at today. He’s worn the “A” for Dynamo Moskva in Russia’s U16 league in 2014-15 and leads them to the finals. There he put up 6 points (4-2-6) in 5 games. Then, the following season he wore the “C” for the Russian National U18 team in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. In that tournament, Kostin piled on 7 points (4-3-7) in 5 games. Last year, he wore the “C” for the Russian National Team again in the U20 World Junior Championship. Where he famously finished with 6 points (3-3-6) in seven games and took a bronze medal back to Russia. Kostin is a clear cut, future Blue but has at times let his emotions get the best of him. This frequently results in less than professional behavior and often silly penalties (not unlike a certain #57). That said, Blues’ brass might find it an important step forward for Kostin to wear the “C” in San Antonio and eat up some ice time this season. He is the likely choice to take the mantle.
The Dark Horses
Although Kostin and Poganski are pedigreed leaders and true NHL caliber talents, there are a couple of others that make a compelling case to wear the “C” in San Antonio this season.
Nathan Walker has the most professional experience of our candidates. He’s played in the AHL back to the 13-14 season when he was with the Hershey Bears. He’s even dressed in 12 NHL games. Even with all this experience, Walker was only named an “Assistant Captain” last season with the Bears. At only 25 years of age and six seasons of AHL experience, he could be the perfect candidate to wear the “C” for the Rampage. His slotting on the depth chart puts him in an excellent position to be in San Antonio for most of the year. His games played lends plenty of experience and knowledge of the league, and his age makes him a right median for the youth and veteran groups.
Mitch Reinke finds himself in the “Dark Horse” category not because he’s under-qualified to wear the “C”, but mostly because he’s still so new to professional hockey. Reinke has, to his credit, worn a letter at all levels he’s played up to this point. He was at the helm for two years with his high school team, and one with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL). He also wore an “A” for the 17-18 campaign at Michigan Tech; a season that landed him a contract with the Blues in the first place. In his rookie campaign, Reinke was the only member of the Rampage to play in all 76 regular-season games. He finished with 45 points (12-33-45) and 9 PPG. This season will be a big one for Reinke and defensemen are typically favored as captains; although he’s listed as a dark horse I do like his odds at taking the captaincy this year.
Jordan Nolan earns a spot on the “Likely Candidate” list as he wore an “A” for the Rampage last year. Not only this, but the man has 3 Stanley Cup Championships to his name, he’s played in 375 NHL games, and would provide that veteran presence that helps develop young players. The Rampage could be looking to replace the “Journeyman” role they lost from Butler’s retirement, and I believe Jordan Nolan fills that void perfectly. He’s already an active part of the leadership group, and with the Blues’ depth at forward, he will likely be spending most of his time in the Alamo City.
Trevor Smith has worn a letter for the past six AHL seasons. This includes wearing a “C” for four straight seasons split between two franchises. He’s spent time in the NHL with multiple competitive teams and earned an “A” in his first with the Rampage. Punching in at age 34, Smith certainly has veteran leadership checked off the list and has the built-in advantage of playing defense. Look for him to be eyeing a promotion to captain this year.
Whoever wears the letters, it will be a new look down in San Antonio this season. As is always the case with AHL teams, guys are coming and going pretty often. It will be exciting to see how things shake out. Follow Blues Rants for season-long consistent coverage of the Blues’ AHL affiliate.